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Title:  Syria Human Rights Practices, 1995   
Author:  U.S. Department of State    
Date:  March 1996    
 
 
 

                                 SYRIA 
 
 
Despite the existence of some institutions of democratic government, 
Syria's political system places virtually absolute authority in the 
hands of the President, Hafiz Al-Asad.  Key decisions regarding foreign 
policy, national security, internal politics, and the economy are made 
by President Asad with counsel from his ministers, high ranking members 
of the ruling Ba'th Party, and from a relatively small circle of 
security advisers.  Although the Parliament is elected every 4 years, 
the Ba'th Party is guaranteed a majority.  The Parliament does not 
initiate laws; it votes on and sometimes modifies those proposed by the 
executive branch.  The judiciary is constitutionally independent, but 
this is not the case in the exceptional security courts.  Depending on 
the nature of the case and those involved, regular courts are not 
generally subject to political influence but the exceptional (state of 
emergency) courts are.  In general, all three branches of government are 
guided by the views of the leadership of the Ba'th Party, whose primacy 
in state institutions is mandated by the Constitution. 
 
The powerful role of the security services in government, which extends 
beyond strictly security matters, stems in part from the state of 
emergency which has been in place almost continuously since 1963.  The 
Government justifies martial law because of the state of war with Israel 
and alleged threats from terrorist groups.  Syrian Military Intelligence 
and Air Force Intelligence are military agencies, while General 
Security, State Security, and Political Security come under the purview 
of the Ministry of Interior.  The branches of the security services 
operate independently of each other and outside the legal system.  Their 
members often ignore the rights of suspects and detainees, and commit 
serious human rights violations. 
 
The economy is based on commerce, agriculture, and oil production.  It 
consists of a generally inefficient public sector, a private sector, and 
mixed public/private companies.  A complex bureaucracy and endemic 
corruption hamper economic growth.  The Government has sought to promote 
the private sector through incentives and deregulation.  Real economic 
growth is about 4 percent, although real per capita growth is less than 
1 percent.  Annual per capita gross domestic product is about $900, and 
inflation about 16 percent per year.  Wage increases in the public 
sector have not kept pace with cost of living increases, and the gap 
between rich and poor has widened. 
 
Despite some improvements, the Government continues to restrict or deny 
fundamental rights.  Serious abuses include the widespread use of 
torture in detention; arbitrary arrest and prolonged detention without 
trial; fundamentally unfair trials in the security courts; the 
suppression of workers rights; and, despite a slight loosening of 
restrictions, the denial of the freedoms of speech, press, assembly, and 
association.  Because the Ba'th Party's domination of the political 
system is guaranteed by the Constitution, the people do not have the 
right to change the Government.  The Government uses its vast powers so 
effectively that there is no organized political opposition and there 
have been very few antiregime manifestations.  Prison conditions 
generally do not meet minimum international standards.  There is some 
societal discrimination and violence against women, and discrimination 
against the Kurdish minority. 
 
There were some positive developments during the year.  The most notable 
was the unconfirmed release of 500 to 600 political prisoners in the 
spring and the release announced by the Government of 1,650 political 
prisoners and detainees in November.  There appeared to be some modest 
relaxation in censorship, allowing slightly greater media criticism of 
certain government policies within strict limits.  The Government also 
permitted an international human rights group to conduct a lengthy fact-
finding mission, and reported acquittals issued by the security courts.  
The detention and prosecution of people appear to have become somewhat 
less arbitrary, based less on personal disputes or complaints of fellow 
citizens. 
 
RESPECT FOR HUMAN RIGHTS 
 
Section 1   Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom 
from: 
 
   a.   Political and Other Extrajudicial Killing 
 
There were no reports of political killings, and no reports of deaths in 
detention.  The Government denied that Lebanese citizen Dani Mansurati 
had died in detention in 1994, possibly as a result of beatings; it 
claimed that he had been tried, sentenced to death, and executed.  The 
Government has not investigated the deaths of persons held in detention. 
 
   b.   Disappearance 
 
There were no reports of politically motivated disappearances during the 
year, although a United Nations Human Rights Commission (UNHRC) working 
group queried the Government on allegations of the earlier abductions of 
11 people.  The Government denied that any such abductions had occurred. 
 
There continued to be little information on the welfare and whereabouts 
of persons who have been held incommunicado for years or about whom no 
more is known other than the approximate date of their detention (see 
Section l.d.). 
 
 
   c.   Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or 
Punishment 
 
Despite the existence of constitutional provisions and several Penal 
Code penalties for abusers, there was credible evidence that security 
forces continue to use torture.  Former detainees and prisoners have 
reported that torture methods include electrical shocks; the forced 
insertion of objects into the rectum; beatings, sometimes while the 
victim is suspended from the ceiling; and the use of a chair that bends 
backwards to asphyxiate the victim or to fracture the spine.  Although 
torture may occur in prisons, torture is most likely while detainees are 
being held at one of the myriad detention centers throughout the country 
run by the various security services, and particularly while the 
authorities are trying to exact a confession or information about the 
alleged crime or alleged accomplices. 
 
Several detainees told a Human Rights Watch (HRW) delegation which 
visited during March to May that they had been tortured during their 
pre-1995) detention, by means of electrical shock, extension of the 
spine, beatings, suspension from a tire, etc.  Some victims were able to 
identify the officials who beat them, including officers up to the level 
of brigadier general.  In early 1995, a special rapporteur of the UNHRC 
cited 11 cases of alleged torture.  In response to all the allegations, 
the Government generally denied the use of torture, and claimed that it 
would prosecute any of those believed guilty of using excessive force or 
physical abuse.  By the end of the year, the Government was not known to 
have undertaken any prosecutions of security officials. 
 
The Government prosecuted some 40 local police officials in 1994, mostly 
for the use of excessive force during arrest or for causing wrongful 
deaths.  The victims were criminals, not those accused of political or 
national security crimes.  The Government did not prosecute any security 
official charged with enforcing the state of emergency; nor did the 
State Security Court initiate any investigation of torture allegations 
made in court.  In such cases, the plaintiff is required to initiate his 
own suit against the alleged abuser in civil proceedings. 
 
Facilities housing political prisoners are worse than those for common 
criminals, even though conditions in the latter do not meet generally 
accepted health and sanitation standards.  The prison at Tadmur in 
Palmyra, where many political prisoners are incarcerated, is widely 
considered to have the worst conditions.  Some prison authorities allow 
visitation rights, but in other cases security officials demand bribes 
from family members wishing to visit incarcerated relatives.  
Overcrowding and substandard and insufficient food exist at several 
prisons.  There is no independent monitoring of prison or detention 
center conditions. 
 
   d.   Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile 
 
The Emergency Law, which authorizes the Government to conduct preventive 
arrests, overrides the Penal Code provisions against arbitrary arrest 
and detention, including the need to obtain warrants.  Syrian officials 
contend that the Emergency Law is applied only in narrowly defined 
cases.  Nonetheless, in cases involving political or national security 
offenses, arrests are generally carried out in secret, and suspects may 
be detained incommunicado for prolonged periods without charge or trial 
and are denied the right to a judicial determination for the pretrial 
detention.  Some of these practices are prohibited by the state of 
emergency, but the authorities are not held to these strictures 
 
The Government has continued the practice of detaining the relatives of 
detainees or of fugitives in order to obtain confessions or the 
fugitive's surrender. 
 
Defendants in civil and criminal trials have the right to bail hearings 
and the possible release from detention on their own recognizance.  
There is no bail option for those accused of national security offenses.  
Unlike the defendants in criminal and civil cases, detainees arrested 
for security offenses do not have access to lawyers prior to or during 
questioning. 
 
Detainees have no legal redress for false arrest.  Security forces often 
do not provide detainees' families with information on their welfare or 
location of detention.  Consequently, many people who have disappeared 
are believed to be in long-term detention without charge or explanation.  
The number of those who have disappeared in this way probably has 
probably declined in the past few years, although this may be due to the 
Government's success in deterring political activity rather than 
stricter procedures for detention. 
 
The Government brought to trial many detainees who have been held 
incommunicado for years.  However, those trials have been unfair (see 
Section 1.e.). 
 
Pretrial detention may be lengthy even in cases not involving political 
or national security offenses.  The justice system is backlogged.  Many 
criminal suspects are held in pretrial detention for months, and may 
have their trials extended for additional months.  The waiting period 
for trials, and the length of trials, are caused by the lack of adequate 
courts, a system of plea bargaining, and legal provisions for a speedy 
trial.  The Government announced the establishment of a number of new 
civilian courts to help deal with the problem. 
 
The Government carried out at least two significant releases of 
political prisoners during the year.  There were unconfirmed reports 
that the Government released 500 to 600 detainees in March and April, 
and the Government claimed to have released another 1,650 people in late 
November.  It is not known under what conditions the releases took 
place.  There was no public announcement, law, or decree authorizing 
them.  Most of the released were apparently members of the Muslim 
Brotherhood, but others were from some banned Communist parties, as well 
as pro-Iraqi Ba'thists and Nasserites.  Those who remain political 
prisoners represent all these groups as well as Kurds accused of either 
membership in the Kurdish Workers' Party or who advocated autonomy for 
Syrian Kurds. 
 
A presidential amnesty issued in December provided for the release of 
some 6,000 to 7,000 prisoners who had committed common crimes.  Among 
those released under this amnesty were 500 to 700 persons convicted by 
the extraconstitutional Economic Security Court.  Consistent with past 
practice, the Government did not announce the number of persons 
released, nor has it responded to requests from international human 
rights groups and foreign governments for their names. 
 
The Government has probably released most of the doctors, lawyers, and 
engineers arrested in a mass crackdown in 1980.  Many Palestinians and 
Lebanese citizens have been detained without charge in both Lebanon and 
Syria, although most have subsequently been released. 
 
In January the Government released four former Ba'th party officials 
imprisoned since 1970.  The Government has released virtually all of 
those arrested at the time President Asad took power in 1970.  At least 
three persons arrested during that period remain in prison, even though 
the sentences of two of them expired in 1985.  The third apparently was 
never tried. 
 
The Government has exiled citizens in the past, although the practice is 
prohibited by the Constitution.  There were no known instances of 
involuntary exile in 1995. 
 
   e.   Denial of Fair Public Trial 
 
The Constitution provides for an independent judiciary, but the two 
exceptional courts that try national security and economic security 
cases are not independent of executive branch control.  The regular 
court system displays independence, although political connections and 
bribery sometimes influence the verdicts. 
 
The judicial system is composed of the civil and criminal courts; the 
religious courts, which adjudicate matters of personal status such as 
divorce and inheritance; military courts; and the security courts.  The 
Supreme Constitutional Court is empowered to rule only on the 
constitutionality of laws and decrees.  It does not hear appeals. 
 
Civil and criminal courts are organized under the Ministry of Justice.  
Defendants are entitled to the legal representation of their choice; the 
courts appoint lawyers for indigents; defendants are presumed innocent 
and are allowed to present evidence and confront their accusers; and 
trials are public, except for those involving juveniles or sex offenses.  
Defendants may appeal their verdicts to a provincial appeals court and, 
ultimately, to the Court of Cassation, which is the highest court of 
appeal.  However, such appeals are hampered because the courts do not 
provide verbatim transcripts of cases--only summaries prepared by the 
presiding judges.  There are no juries. 
 
The military courts have the authority to try civilians as well as 
military personnel.  The venue for a civilian defendant is decided by a 
military prosecutor.  There were continuing reports that the Government 
operates military "field courts" which do not have established 
courtrooms.  Such courts reportedly observe fewer formal procedures than 
the regular military courts. 
 
The two security courts are called the Supreme State Security Court 
(SSSC), which tries political and national security cases, and the 
Economic Security Court, which tries cases involving financial crimes.  
Both courts operate under the state of emergency, not ordinary law, and 
do not observe constitutional guarantees. 
 
Charges against defendants in the SSSC are often vague.  Many defendants 
appear to be tried for exercising normal political rights, such as free 
speech.  For example, the Emergency Law authorizes the prosecution of 
anyone "opposing the goals of the revolution" or "shaking the confidence 
of the masses in the aims of the revolution" or trying to "change the 
economic or social structure of the State."  Nonetheless, the Government 
contends that the SSSC tries only persons who have sought to use 
violence against the State. 
 
Under SSSC procedures, defendants are not present during the 
preliminary, or investigative, phase of the trial, when evidence is 
presented by the prosecutor.  Trials are usually closed to the public.  
Lawyers are not guaranteed adequate access to their clients, and are 
excluded from the court during their clients' initial interrogation by 
the prosecutor.  Lawyers submit written defense pleas, rather than oral 
presentations.  The State's case is often based on confessions, but 
defendants have not been allowed to argue that their confessions were 
coerced.  There is no known instance in which the Court ordered a 
medical examination for a defendant who claimed that he was tortured.  
The SSSC has reportedly acquitted some defendants, but the Government 
does not provide any statistics on the conviction rate.  Defendants do 
not have the right to appeal SSSC verdicts, but sentences are reviewed 
by the Minister of Interior, who may ratify, nullify, or alter 
sentences.  The President may also intervene in the review process. 
 
Many--perhaps hundreds--of cases passed through the SSSC in 1995.  Most 
involved charges related to membership in various banned political 
groups, including the Communist Party, the Party for Communist Action, 
and the pro-Iraqi wing of the Ba'th party.  Several Syrian Kurds were 
also put on trial.  The Government permitted representatives from Human 
Rights Watch (HRW) to observe sessions of the SSSC during the group's 
visit to Syria from March to May.  An HRW representative was allowed to 
speak with several defendants, some of whom complained that they had not 
been informed of the identities of their state-appointed lawyers, nor 
allowed to consult with them to prepare their defense.  Some of the 
defendants denied any involvement with violence, claiming that they were 
on trial for expressing alternative political ideas. 
 
The Economic Security Court (ESC) tries persons for alleged violations 
of the foreign-exchange laws and other economic crimes.  Like the SSSC, 
this Court does not guarantee defendants due process.  The defendants 
may not have adequate access to lawyers to prepare their defenses, and 
the state's case is usually based on confessions.  Verdicts are likely 
influenced by high-ranking government officials.  Those convicted of the 
most serious economic crimes do not have the right of appeal, but those 
convicted of lesser crimes may appeal to the Court of Cassation. 
 
The Government denies that it detains political prisoners, arguing that, 
although the aims of some prisoners may be political, their activities, 
including subversion, were criminal.  However, the Emergency Law and the 
Penal Code are so vague, and the Government's power so broad, that many 
convicts are in prison for expressing their opposition to the 
Government.  The current population of political prisoners may range 
from several hundred to 2,000. 
 
   f.   Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or 
Correspondence 
 
Although laws provide for freedom from arbitrary interference, the 
Emergency Law authorizes the security services to enter homes and 
conduct searches with warrants if security matters--very broadly 
defined--are involved.  The security services selectively monitor 
telephone conversations and facsimile transmissions and interfere with 
the mail.  The Government opens mail destined for both citizens and 
foreign residents.  It also prevents the delivery of human rights 
materials. 
 
There are fewer police checkpoints on roads and in cities and towns than 
in previous years.  Generally, the security services set up such 
checkpoints to search for smuggled goods, weapons, narcotics, and 
subversive literature.  The searches take place without warrants.  The 
Government and the Ba'th Party have also tried to restrict some citizens 
from visiting cultural centers operated by foreign embassies. 
 
Section 2   Respect for Civil Liberties, Including: 
 
   a.   Freedom of Speech and Press 
 
The Constitution provides citizens with the right to express their 
opinions freely in speech and in writing, but the Government restricts 
these rights significantly.  It permits no written criticism of the 
President or the legitimacy of the regime, and strictly controls the 
dissemination of information.  The Emergency Law allows the Government 
broad discretion in determining illegal expression.  It prohibits the 
publishing of "false information" opposed to "the goals of the 
revolution" (see Section 1.e.).  In the past, the Government has 
imprisoned journalists for failing to observe press restrictions.  There 
is no information on whether these journalists are still imprisoned, nor 
were there any known arrests of journalists during the year. 
 
The Ministry of Information and the Ministry of Culture and National 
Guidance censor the domestic and foreign press.  They usually prevent 
publication or distribution of any material regarded as threatening or 
embarrassing to the Government.  Censorship is usually stricter for 
materials written in Arabic.  Commonly censored subjects include the 
following:  the Government's human rights record; Islamic 
fundamentalism; allegations of official involvement in drug trafficking; 
aspects of the Government's role in Lebanon; graphic descriptions of 
sex; material unfavorable to the Arab cause in the Middle East conflict; 
and material that is offensive to any of Syria's religious groups, or is 
partial to sectarianism. 
 
The Ministry of Culture and National Guidance censors fiction and 
nonfiction works, including films.  It also determines which films may 
not be shown at the cultural centers operated by foreign embassies. 
 
Nonetheless, there appeared to be some relaxation in censorship during 
the year.  The media was granted somewhat wider latitude in reporting on 
regional developments, including the peace process.  The media covered 
some peace process events factually, but other events were reported 
selectively to buttress official views.  Moreover, several newspapers 
published reports on government malfeasance and low-level, but not high-
level, corruption.  The Government also allowed the publication of a 
newspaper column which complained that citizens read only the 
Government's version of the news in government-owned newspapers.  In 
August the Government did not interfere with the distribution of the 
French newspaper "Le Monde," which contained a critical report on the 
Government's human rights practices, and it allowed entry into the 
market of another foreign newspaper which had been banned in 1994 for 
publishing an article on Syria's role in Lebanon.  The Government also 
permitted a public seminar on the judiciary, and several previously 
banned books were made available for purchase at the Government's annual 
international book fair.  Moreover, there were reports that the 
Government ended its interference of some television broadcasts from 
neighboring countries, but there still appears to be some jamming. 
 
The Government or the Ba'th party owns and operates the radio and 
television companies and the newspaper publishing houses.  There are no 
privately owned newspapers.  The Ministry of Information censors the 
televised news programs to ensure that they follow the government line.  
The Government does not interfere with television and radio broadcasts 
from Israel.  In late 1994, the Government announced that it would once 
again confiscate satellite receiving dishes and replace them with a 
government-controlled cable system.  However, no dishes were 
confiscated.  It appears that the Government has informally approved the 
private ownership of satellite dishes, which continue to proliferate. 
 
Public school teachers are not permitted to express ideas contrary to 
government policy, although authorities allow somewhat greater freedom 
of expression at the university level. 
 
   b.   Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association 
 
This freedom does not exist.  Citizens may not hold meetings unless they 
obtain permission from the Ministry of Interior.  Most public 
demonstrations are organized by the Government or the Ba'th Party.  The 
Government applies the restrictions on public assembly in Palestinian 
refugee camps, where controlled demonstrations have been allowed.  There 
is no law that permits the establishment of political parties. 
 
Private associations must be registered with the Government in order to 
be considered legal.  Groups have not been able to register presumably 
because the Government viewed them as political, even though the groups 
considered themselves strictly cultural or professional.  Unregistered 
groups may not hold meetings, and the authorities do not allow the 
establishment of independent political parties.  The Government usually 
grants registration to groups not engaged in political or other 
activities deemed sensitive. 
 
In 1980 the Government dissolved, then reconstituted under its control, 
the executive boards of professional associations after some members 
staged a national strike and advocated an end to the state of emergency.  
The associations have not been independent since that time, and are 
generally led by members of the Ba'th Party, although "independents" are 
allowed on the executive boards. 
 
   c.   Freedom of Religion 
 
The Constitution provides for freedom of religion and the Government 
respects this right in practice.  The only advantage given to a 
particular religion by the Constitution is that which requires the 
President to be a Muslim.  All religions and sects must register with 
the Government, which monitors fundraising and requires permits for all 
meetings by religious groups, except for worship.  Although no law 
prohibits non-Muslims from proselytizing Muslims, the Government 
discourages such activity.  The few remaining Jews are generally barred 
from Government employment and do not have military service obligations.  
They are the only minority group whose passports and identity cards note 
their religion. 
 
   d.   Freedom of Movement Within the Country, Foreign Travel, 
Emigration, and Repatriation 
 
The Government restricts travel near the Golan Heights and occasionally 
near Iraq.  Travel to Israel is illegal.  Citizens require government 
permission to travel abroad.  Some have been denied such permission on 
political grounds, although government officials deny that the practice 
occurs.  The authorities may prosecute any person found attempting to 
emigrate or travel abroad without official permission, or suspected of 
having visited Israel.  On the other hand, there is no evidence that the 
Government persecuted upon their return to Syria those who applied for, 
but were denied, asylum abroad. 
 
Women over the age of 18 have the legal right to travel without the 
permission of male relatives.  In practice, either the husband or the 
wife may file a request with the Ministry of Interior to prohibit a 
spouse's departure from Syria.  In addition, a father may request that 
the Ministry prohibit travel abroad by unmarried daughters, even if they 
are over 18 years of age. 
 
Palestinian refugees sometimes encounter difficulties in obtaining 
travel documents and re-entering Syria after traveling abroad.  The 
Government restricts entry by  
 
Palestinians who are not resident in Syria.  The Government does not 
allow the Palestinian residents of Gaza to visit Syria. 
 
The Government generally cooperates with the United Nations High 
Commissioner for Refugees and other humanitarian organizations in 
assisting refugees.  Although it denied any forced repatriation of those 
who claimed refugee status, it apparently involuntarily repatriated some 
Iranians, Somalis, Libyans, and perhaps others. 
 
Section 3   Respect for Political Rights:  The Right of Citizens to 
Change Their Government 
 
Although citizens ostensibly vote for the President and Members of 
Parliament, they do not have the right to change their government.  The 
President and his senior aides, particularly those responsible for 
security, ultimately make all the basic decisions on political and 
economic life.  Moreover, the Constitution provides that the Ba'th Party 
is guaranteed a majority in all government and "popular" associations, 
such as workers' and women's groups.   
 
The Party dominates the parliament, or People's Council.  Although 
parliamentarians may criticize policies and modify draft laws, the 
executive branch dominates the legislative process.  The Government 
permits only those parties which are part of the Ba'th-dominated 
National Progressive Front.  These parties hew closely to Ba'th Party 
and government policies. 
 
Persons who have been convicted by the State Security Court may be 
deprived of their political rights after they are released from prison.  
These restrictions include a prohibition on engaging in any type of 
political activity, the denial of a passport, and a bar on accepting a 
government job or some other forms of employment.  The duration of such 
restrictions may last for 10 years or the remainder of the ex-prisoner's 
life.  The Government contends that this practice is mandated by the 
Penal Code, and has been law since 1949. 
 
Women and minorities participate in the political system without 
restriction.  There are 2 female cabinet ministers and 24 members of 
Parliament, or about 10 percent of that body, are women. 
 
Section 4   Governmental Attitude Regarding International and 
Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights 
 
The Government took the unprecedented step of allowing the international 
human rights group, Human Rights Watch (HRW), to conduct a fact-finding 
mission of some 45 days beginning in March.  The HRW delegation met with 
several government ministers, and was allowed to travel around the 
country.  It also met with the lawyers and families of detainees and 
prisoners, attended sessions at the Supreme State Security Court, and 
spoke with defendants, lawyers, and judges in ongoing trials. 
 
The Government did not grant the HRW delegation permission to visit 
prisons holding political and national security detainees.  As a result 
of the delegation's visit, HRW published a report sharply critical of 
the procedures of the SSSC and the absence of legal outlets for 
political opposition.  The Government contended that HRW's criticism was 
unwarranted and inaccurate, but later indicated its desire to continue a 
dialogue with the group. 
 
The Government does not allow the establishment of local human rights 
groups.  One or two human rights groups once operated legally, but have 
been banned. 
 
The Government denies to international groups, including the United 
Nations Human Rights Commission, that it commits human rights abuses.  
It does not permit representatives of the International Committee of the 
Red Cross to visit prisons.  The Government claims that it responds in 
writing to all inquiries from international human rights groups.  
However, Amnesty International reported in June that it had not received 
information on the status of some 1,000 prisoners, even though it made 
the request in October 1994. 
 
In instances in which foreign nationals are arrested, the authorities 
sometime delay or deny prison visits by embassy officials.  The 
Government does not recognize dual nationality, and thus it does not 
always grant requests by foreign embassies to visit or assist detainees 
who have another nationality. 
 
Section 5   Discrimination Based on Race, Sex, Religion, Disability, 
Language, or Social Status 
 
The Constitution provides for equal rights and equal opportunity for all 
citizens.  In practice, membership in the Ba'th Party or close familial 
relations with a prominent party member or government official can be 
important for prospering.  Party or government connections can pave the 
way for entrance into better elementary and secondary schools, access to 
lucrative employment, and greater power within the Government, the 
military, and the security services.  Certain prominent positions, such 
as that of provincial governor, are reserved solely for Ba'th Party 
members. 
 
   Women 
 
Violence against women is not common but exists, and appears to occur 
more in rural than in urban areas.  There are no official statistics on 
the incidence of such violence.  However, one preliminary study 
suggested that domestic violence is the largest single reason for 
divorces, and that such abuse is more prevalent among the less educated.  
Battered women have the legal right to seek redress in court, but few do 
so because of the social stigma attached to such action.  The Syrian 
Women's Federation offers services to battered wives to remedy 
individual family problems.  The Syrian Family Planning Association also 
seeks to deal with this problem.  Some private groups, including the 
Association, organized a seminar on violence against women, which was 
reported by the government press. 
 
The Government has sought to overcome traditional discriminatory 
attitudes toward women.  The Government encourages women's education and 
has expressed its intention to align its laws more closely with 
international conventions on equal opportunity for women.  Still, the 
Government has yet to act on proposed changes to retirement and social 
security laws which discriminate against women. 
 
The divorce laws discriminate against women.  For example, husbands may 
claim adultery as grounds for divorce, but wives face more difficulty in 
presenting the same argument.  Inheritance is based on Shari'a, or 
Islamic law.  Accordingly, women are granted a smaller share of 
inheritance than male heirs.  On the other hand, Shari'a courts mandate 
child support from husbands in cases where the wife is awarded custody. 
 
Women are not impeded from owning or managing land or other real 
property.  In addition to cabinet ministers and parliamentarians, women 
constitute 6 percent of judges, 10 percent of lawyers, 57 percent of 
teachers below university level, and 20 percent of university 
professors. 
 
   Children 
 
The law stresses the need to protect children, and the Government gave 
some publicity to the issue by organizing seminars on the subject of 
child welfare.  Although there are cases of child abuse, there is no 
overall pattern of societal abuse.  The law provides for severe 
penalties for those found guilty of the most serious abuses against 
children. 
 
There is no legal discrimination between boys and girls in school or in 
health care.  The percentage of girls in the schools, about 40 percent 
of all girls, has risen steadily, but it has not yet reached parity with 
boys. 
 
   People with Disabilities 
 
The law prohibits discrimination against the disabled and seeks to 
integrate them into the public sector work force.  However, 
implementation is lax.  Regulations reserving 2 percent of government 
and public sector jobs for the disabled are not rigorously implemented.  
The disabled do not have recourse to the courts regarding 
discrimination.  There are no laws mandating access to public buildings 
for the disabled. 
 
   Religious Minorities 
 
Although there is a significant amount of religious tolerance, religion 
or ethnic affiliation is occasionally a factor in determining career 
opportunities.  For example, members of the President's religious sect, 
the Alawis, hold many high-level security and military positions.  
However, there is also a desire to avoid sectarianism. 
 
   National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities 
 
Although the Government contends that there is no discrimination against 
the Syrian Kurdish population, it has placed limits on the use and 
teaching of the Kurdish language, Kurdish cultural expression and, at 
times, the celebration of Kurdish festivals.  Some members of Syria's 
Kurdish community have been tried by the Supreme State Security Court 
for expressing support for greater Kurdish autonomy or independence. 
 
Although the Government stopped the practice of stripping Syrian Kurds 
of their Syrian nationality (some 120,000 lost their nationality under 
this program in the 1960's), it has never restored this nationality.  As 
a result, the offspring of those who had lost their citizenship have 
been unable to obtain passports or identification cards. 
 
Section 6   Worker Rights 
 
   a.   The Right of Association 
 
Although the Constitution provides for this right, workers are not free 
to establish unions independent of the Government's bureaucratic 
structure.  All unions must belong to the General Federation of Trade 
Unions (GFTU) which is dominated by the Ba'th Party and is actually a 
part of the bureaucracy.  The GFTU is an information transmission belt 
between political leaders and workers.  The GFTU transmits instructions 
downward to the unions and workers, but also conveys information to 
leaders about worker conditions and needs.  The GFTU provides the 
Government with opinions on legislation, organizes workers, and 
formulates rules for various member unions.  The GFTU president is a 
senior member of the Ba'th Party.  He and his deputy may attend Cabinet 
meetings on economic affairs.  The GFTU controls nearly all aspects of 
union activity. 
 
The law does not prohibit strikes, but workers are inhibited from 
striking because of previous government crackdowns on strikers.  In 1980 
the security forces arrested many union and professional association 
officials who planned a national strike.  Some of those remain in 
detention or have been tried by the State Security Court. 
 
The GFTU is affiliated with the International Confederation of Arab 
Trade Unions. 
 
In 1992 the U.S. Government suspended Syria's eligibility for tariff 
preferences under the U.S. Generalized System of Preferences because the 
Government failed to take steps to afford internationally recognized 
worker rights to Syrian workers. 
 
   b.   The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively 
 
This right does not exist in any meaningful sense.  Government 
representatives are part of the bargaining process in the public sector.  
In state-owned companies, union representatives negotiate hours, wages, 
and conditions of employment with representatives of the employers and 
supervising ministry.  Workers serve on the boards of directors of 
public enterprises. 
 
The law provides for collective bargaining in the private sector, but 
any such agreement between labor and management must be ratified by the 
Minister of Labor and Social Affairs, who effectively has the power of 
veto.  The Committee of Experts of the International Labor Organization 
(ILO) has long noted the Government's resistance to abolishing the 
Minister's power over collective contracts. 
 
Unions have the right to litigate disputes over work contracts and other 
workers' interests with employers and may ask for binding arbitration.  
In practice, labor officials and management settle most disputes without 
resort to legal remedies or arbitration.  Management has the right to 
request arbitration, but this is seldom exercised.  Arbitration usually 
occurs when a worker initiates a dispute over wages or severance pay. 
 
Since the unions are absorbed into the Government's bureaucratic 
structure, they are protected by law from antiunion discrimination.  
There were no reports of antiunion discrimination. 
 
There are no unions in the seven free trade zones.  Firms in the zones 
are exempt from the laws and regulations governing hiring and firing, 
although they must observe some provisions on health and safety, hours, 
and sick and annual leave. 
 
   c.   Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor 
 
There is no law prohibiting forced or compulsory labor.  There were no 
reports of forced or compulsory labor involving children or foreign or 
domestic workers.  Forced labor has been imposed as a punishment for 
some convicts. 
 
   d.   Minimum Age for Employment of Children 
 
The minimum age for employment is 14 years in the public sector and 12 
years in the private sector.  In all cases, parental permission is 
required for children under the age of 16.  The law prohibits children 
from working at night.  However, all these laws apply only to children 
working for a salary.  Those working in family businesses who are not 
technically paid a salary--a common phenomenon--do not fall under the 
law.  Child labor is common, and the Government claims that the 
expansion of the private sector has led to more young children working.  
The Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs is responsible for enforcing 
child labor laws, but does not have enough inspectors to ensure 
compliance with the laws.  Rural enforcement of labor laws is also more 
lax than that in urban areas, where inspectors are concentrated. 
 
   e.   Acceptable Conditions of Work 
 
The Minister of Labor and Social Affairs is responsible for enforcing 
minimum wage levels in the public and private sectors.  The minimum 
wage, which the Government had raised in 1994 (accompanying a cut in 
subsidies on basic food items), remained unchanged at $50 per month in 
the public sector and $44 per month in the private sector (550 and 484 
Syrian pounds at the official rate, respectively).  A committee of 
labor, management, and government representatives submits recommended 
changes in the minimum wage to the Minister.  The minimum wage does not 
provide an adequate standard of living for a worker and family.  As a 
result, many workers take additional jobs or are supported by their 
extended families. 
 
The statutory workweek is 6 days of 6 hours each, but in some cases a 9-
hour workday is permitted.  The laws mandate one 24-hour rest day per 
week. 
 
Rules and regulations severely limit the ability of an employer to 
dismiss employees without due cause.  Even if a person is absent from 
work without notice for a long period, the employer must follow a 
lengthy procedure of trying to find the person and notify him, including 
through newspaper notices, before he is able to take any action against 
the employee.  Dismissed employees have the right to appeal before a 
committee of representatives from the union, management, the Ministry of 
Labor and Social Affairs, and the appropriate municipality. such 
committees usually find in favor of the employee. 
 
The law does not protect temporary workers who are not subject to 
regulations on minimum wages.  Small private firms and businesses employ 
such workers to avoid the costs associated with hiring permanent 
employees. 
 
The law mandates safety in all sectors, and managers are expected to 
implement them fully.  In practice, there is little enforcement without 
worker complaints, which occur infrequently despite government efforts 
to post notices on safety rights and regulations.  Large companies, such 
as oil field contractors, also employ safety engineers. 
 
The ILO has noted that a provision in the Labor Code allowing employers 
to keep workers at the workplace for as many as 11 hours a day might 
lead to abuse.  However, there have been no reports of such abuses. 
 
Officials from the Ministries of Health and Labor inspect work sites for 
compliance with health and safety standards.  Such inspections appear to 
be haphazard, apart from those conducted in hotels and other facilities 
which cater to foreigners.  Workers may lodge complaints about health 
and safety conditions with special committees established to adjudicate 
such cases.  Workers have the right to remove themselves from hazardous 
conditions without risking loss of employment. 
 
(###)

[end of document]

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